Housing, land and property (HLP) rights are about having a home, free from the fear of forced eviction; a place that offers shelter, safety and the ability to secure a livelihood.
Drawn from international humanitarian law and human rights law, HLP rights entitle displaced people to a safe place to live, where they can be sheltered and free from forced eviction. HLP rights are essential as displaced people seek to rebuild their lives and secure a dignified livelihood for themselves and their families in some of the world’s most unstable environments.
Disputes over land tenure are often at the centre of conflict. When conflict ends, disputes over occupied property are a continued source of instability, often undermining long-lasting solutions for returning populations and threatening fragile peace agreements. Given the protracted nature of many of today´s conflicts, supporting HLP rights can help humanitarians make a more significant contribution during the ‘transition gap’ from insecurity to a more stable environment.
Why displaced women + HLP rights?
Access to housing, land and property is one of the principal factors determining the economic and social well-being of women, especially in situations of conflict and reconstruction when their rights are violated on a mass scale. Demographic changes that occur during conflict result in higher numbers of single women and women-headed households.
In general, women-headed households have a higher dependency burden than male-headed households. Poverty in these families is made worse when gender-biased inheritance laws deprive women of access to the property of a deceased or missing spouse.
Even before conflict, women are disadvantaged when it comes to HLP entitlements. Land ownership remains largely restricted to men, both by tradition and law. Globally, men’s landholdings are almost three times the size of those of women. Inheritance is fundamental for the accumulation of assets, including land, yet often women and girls have fewer inheritance rights than men and boys.
Conflict makes these inequalities worse. Women experience the loss of HLP rights at every stage of displacement. When women are forced to leave their homes, finding a place to stay is critical to survive displacement and provide safety for their families.
Women also have different experiences of HLP rights in return situations. In South Sudan, for example, NRC’s research found that women are more likely to report problems claiming inheritance rights and to be evicted by their family, the community or the government. Similarly, in Liberia, according to NRC’s experience, women are less likely than men to possess documentary evidence of their land tenure and more likely to experience violence in relation to their dispute.
Displaced and returnee women who are widowed, separated, disabled and illiterate may be particularly vulnerable and are often without support systems or networks. Housing, land and property can be the only economic assets these women have. Their survival and that of their families can depend on them. Many displaced women are left with few real options but to challenge their families and communities to have independent access to these assets.
Access and control of HLP and its social and economic benefits are linked to many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Development actors have singled out conflict and violence as obstructing progress towards MDGs – the biggest gaps are in fragile and conflict-affected states. Inequality is one of the main factors holding back progress and there have been fewest gains on MDGs that depend the most on women’s empowerment.
There is increasing recognition of the ways in which international approaches to conflict-affected states can make a much more significant impact on women’s equality. The long-term cost of failing to address the challenges for women is high. With this in mind, supporting women’s HLP rights represents an opportunity to strengthen the links between humanitarian responses and to set the framework for sustainable recovery and development.
What is this project doing?
This five-year project by NRC is designed to help increase displaced women’s access to housing, land and property (HLP) rights through international advocacy. It focuses specifically on conflict and post-conflict countries or regions, as this increases women’s overall vulnerability and in particular their ability to claim their HLP rights.
The evidence base for the initiative is drawn from six country research studies, which look at different aspects of displaced women’s HLP rights. The countries are Afghanistan, Palestine (Gaza), Lebanon, Ecuador, South Sudan and Liberia. In particular, NRC is looking at its own extensive operational experience as a provider of information, counselling and legal aid related to housing, land and property rights in 20 countries afflicted by conflict and post-conflict for over 15 years. Legal case analysis and other desk research have also been used to create a fuller picture.
The initiative has provided well-researched legal, policy and practice recommendations for the humanitarian community, including governments and civil society in the countries covered by the research. The key outputs of the initiative are a headline report providing global recommendations and a set of five country reports, accompanied by photos, films and case studies of women affected by the issue.
The project is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and by the Norwegian Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent, humanitarian, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, which provides assistance, protection and durable solutions to some of the world’s 42 million refugees and internally displaced persons.
With humanitarian assistance programmes in 20 countries, NRC assists people to claim their rights, access available remedies, and recover from the effects of abuse and violations. NRC’s Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) supports beneficiaries in claiming and exercising their rights. ICLA provides information, counselling, legal assistance, collaborative dispute resolution, capacity- building and advocacy activities. An increasingly important area of NRC’s legal aid work supports displaced women as they seek to enforce their housing, land and property (HLP) rights.
NRC is widely recognised as a leading provider of assistance to displaced people seeking to secure their HLP rights in conflict and post-conflict situations. Due to its track record NRC is uniquely positioned in the humanitarian community to share its experiences and to advocate for improvements in the way HLP rights are supported during emergencies and long-term displacement situations.
For more information on NRC´s ICLA programmes visit http://www.nrc.no/?aid=9160708